A noisy mass of people gathered in Barnsley train station on Monday of this week for their fifth “Freedom Ride”.
Protesters have been meeting there each week after South Yorkshire councils axed free train travel for older and disabled people.
Northern Rail bosses have backed down each week and let protesters ride the train for free. And this week was no exception.
Transport police and Northern Rail guards stopped them boarding the 11.22 to Meadowhall for the 20 minute journey that is usually their Freedom Ride. So protesters took a later train to Penistone instead.
Andrew and Susan Bowers were there with their autistic daughter. “They’re isolating people,” Andrew told Socialist Worker.
“Our daughter used to get free travel but nobody’s going to pay for the carer who needs to go with her. So now for her to go anywhere, it’s double the cost.”
The fact that Barnsley council is splashing money on things other than disabled people and pensioners has fed the fury.
“The Lord Mayor has two cars that cost £104,000 a year to run,” Andrew said. “That’s for one person to have the privilege to travel for free.”
Susan said, “There are six statues going up in Barnsley city centre at a cost of £60,000. We can’t afford to get into Barnsley to see them.”
Around 150 people came to Monday’s freedom ride in Barnsley—the biggest yet. And more groups gathered in Sheffield and Meadowhall.
The protests are pulling in people who have never protested before.
Sylvia Lloyd joined the Barnsley protest for the first time this week. She told Socialist Worker, “I live on my own and I like to get out so I’m not bored in the house.
“But they don’t care about what the old folks want. We’re just chucked on the scrap heap.”
Alan Darlow is in a similar position. “It’s preventing me from getting out on a day,” he said. “A lot of older people like to go for a day out—it gets you away from looking at four walls.”
Malcolm Ingram came to the protest adorned with medals. He told Socialist Worker he was there for all those who have been disabled after being sent to fight in wars.
“It’s the first time I’ve been on a protest,” he said. “I’m an ex-serviceman. I’m used to doing what I’m told. But now I’m saying, I don’t agree with this and I’m going to stand up and fight.”
The crowd sang songs and chanted in the station during the protest. One traveller leaving a train gave them a raised fist in support.
Tosh McDonald, vice president of the Aslef union, came to show support as did Paul Russell from the National Pensioners’ Convention.
Protesters have vowed to hold a sixth Freedom Ride on Wednesday of next week. The RMT union has pledged support and plans to send a delegation.
Dave Gibson, a candidate for TUSC in Barnsley Central, told the crowd that their actions were making a difference. “The only reason that people are still talking about free travel is because we’ve been doing freedom rides for five weeks,” he said.
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